Holocaust survivor speaks at U

Emily Babcock

Understanding the Holocaust depends on separating emotions from events, a survivor told students and professors Thursday.
Ruth Kluger, a professor at the University of California-Irvine, read aloud English-translated excerpts from her first memoir “Weiter Leben,” or “Continuing to Survive,” to about 50 Jewish studies students and professors at Folwell Hall. Kluger is currently translating the book from German into English.
The memoir is an account of her life until she escaped to the United States in 1947. Although she was forced to endure several concentration camps, including Auschwitz, Kluger said she is able to tell her stories by keeping an emotional space.
“You have to keep a distance to absorb anything properly,” Kluger said.
Kluger’s book differs from many other women’s narratives of the Holocaust that focus on individual events, personal tragedies, and demonization, said Stephen Feinstein, director of the University’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies.
Feinstein said it is important to read a mixture of more sentimental memoirs and Kluger’s spatially- distanced genre.
“Don’t get rid of the emotion, but control it,” Feinstein said. “You have to be objective to understand what happened.”
What also makes Kluger’s account different from most Holocaust literature is the memoir combined with the critical analysis, said Pascale Bos, assistant director of the Holocaust center. Bos said Kluger comments on current debates, such as whether the Holocaust is unique, whereas many critics say it is impermissible to compare the Holocaust with any other historical event. But Kluger says it must be compared in order to fully understand why it occurred.
Kluger recounted not being able to attend a movie theater at age eight and then compared her experience of discrimination to that of the discrimination experienced by African-Americans in the United States.
Her book also addresses the debate of whether the Holocaust should be memorialized.
She states that walking through a museum or seeing a memorial is not going to invoke memories for those who were not there.
“She complicates the questions, which is appealing because there are no simple answers,” Bos said.
At the lecture, Kluger also read stories about the disappearance of some of her family members and their transport to the gas chambers. She used the metaphor of a film she saw about seals. Young men were clubbing baby seals to death, and the mother seal would attempt to protect her kin by barking, but gave up eventually and had to leave out of frustration.
“We never did mourn,” Kluger said, “we walked away like the seal.”